Mobile Unit. Arrowtown history II

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Kingsley Butler, David Mackie and Alice Mackie discuss early Arrowtown.

The interview opens with Kingsley Butler speaking about his childhood. He was born in Victoria, Australia and came over to New Zealand in 1862. The family travelled from Australia by ship, arriving in Dunedin, then they walked to Arrowtown. His father pegged six gold claims at the Arrow River – named the Rip, Tear, Yak, Dandy, All Nations, and Rule Britannia.

Mr Butler speaks about horse racing in the town – the streets would be decorated for the occasion, and arches would be put up. A “trick rider” named Billy Jenkins would drop his hat in the street, then pick it up from horseback. There is a tale about a running race between George Dickson and another named Drake. Then a tale about a Scottish bootmaker named Rennie and some stolen gold. He then goes on to speak about his work with farming and horses. He would break in his own horses, and ride in the hurdle races. One of the best horses he rode was called Flying Beauty.

There are then a number of tales about local characters. Alice Mackie mentions a Chinese man named Wong Hop, and a sock full of gold he had. Mr Butler tells a story about a Welshman named Pritchard, and some gold in a pickle jar.

Alice Mackie says that fifty years ago [prior to 1948] there were only a few Chinese left in the area. One Chinese man found about a hundred pounds in notes in the bottom of a buffalo chip (dung fuel) bag, and gave it to a Mr Smith, who passed it on to the police. She says the Chinese were very honest. Mr Butler speaks about the great weight of bamboo the Chinese men would carry.

The group then speaks about the use of opium among the Chinese in the area. Mr Butler describes the instruments used to smoke opium, and says the opium itself was similar in consistency to treacle. Alice Mackie recalls seeing men unconscious after using it – they would dream vividly after smoking.

Kingsley Butler recalls seeing the armed ‘gold escort’ policemen on horseback, and then tells a tale of a policeman named Quinn who would chain offenders to a heavy log, as there was nowhere else to put them. A strong Irishman named Paddy once pulled the log over to Lake Hayes, while chained to it at the leg. He then speaks about the boat ‘Mountaineer’ on the lake. There is discussion about Bully Hayes, including about his ‘shanty’. Mr Butler speaks further about gold mining, but says he never did any mining himself.

Mr Butler used to cart coal from Gibbstown. He speaks about the chestnut mare that would pull the dray, then tells a tale of a man named Bill who stole the priest’s [?] horse. He then tells a story about a time a team of horses got spooked by a boy carrying a fish.

David Mackie then speaks about cropping oats, wheat, and barley. He says as time went on the land got “lighter and lighter” and didn’t produce as well. He lists the prices the various crops fetched, and then speaks about the reaping methods used – with a binder with a ‘back delivery’, or sometimes with a hook (scythe). The wheat would be sown in Autumn, and cut by Christmas. Many would help out at harvest time, including some Chinese.

Alice Mackie then speaks about processing milk – there were no separators in the early days; the milk would be skimmed every day by hand. She describes the “skimmer” used - about as big as a saucer, with holes and a handle. The milk would run out the holes and the cream stayed on top. They would then churn butter from the cream. Butter was priced at around a shilling a pound.

She then speaks about the Chinese who used to live in the area, saying they all wore their hair in long pigtails and if they cut it off they wouldn’t be able to return to China. She recalls a time that a white man cut off a Chinese man’s pigtail as a joke. The Chinese took such great offence to this that the culprit had to hide from them in a butter barrel.

Kingsley Butler’s father used to own a hotel - he would help his father run it. For entertainment, there would be step dancing, billiards cards, or dances at the pub. There was also a fair bit of gambling. He recalls a man who lost two thousand pounds at cards. Alice Mackie then speaks about Jack Edgar of Queenstown, who makes his living by gambling.

There is discussion about the name ‘Arrowtown’ - Mr Butler claims it used to be called Fox’s Rush. Alice Mackie says it was named after Mr Fox, who found gold in the area in the early days.

Mr Butler speaks about a hydraulic “California Pump”, and then goes on to speak about the early town, which was all tents rather than houses. The group then speculates on whether there is still gold in the area. Mr Butler tells of a pensioner, Sam Couger, who got a lump of gold. Alice Mackie says there is still gold to be had, it is just difficult to get.

David Mackie speaks about his work in cartage (‘wagoning’), which he did for over forty years. He recalls a time during the war when he was coming into a township, and the people were frightened - they had seen light from a gasoline lamp shining on a hill, and thought that the Germans were coming. George Ritchie comments that the roads were quite poor, and David Mackie recalls axle-deep mud, and deep ruts that were a danger to the horses. He also mentions using flax reins.

The group then discusses how the women would iron and starch shirts in the early days. David Mackie says they had wax candles for starch, and would iron with a very hot water bottle.

Kingsley Butler then speaks further about characters of the gold mining days, including Hartley and Reilly at the Clutha River, Sam Scoles, and Jimmy Hansel. David Mackie then mentions a man called Cotter who put in a tunnel at Brackens Gully. After many years working it, he gave up. Then a Chinese man went in, worked it for two days, got six hundred pounds’ worth of gold out of it and returned to China.

Alice Mackie speaks about a funeral for a Chinese man. She says a bottle of brandy, a fowl, and rice were put in the coffin. Candles were put on top of the grave. At every Chinese funeral, there were lollies for the children, and brandy for the men.

The interview concludes with Kingsley Butler commenting on his daily habits (the time he goes to bed and wakes up, and meals etc.), and he makes a few final comments on horses.

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Year 1948

Reference number 5728

Media type AUDIO

Collection Sound Collection

Genre Oral histories
Interviews (Sound recordings)
Sound recordings

Credits Butler, Kingsley, Interviewee
Mackie, David, Interviewee
Mackie, Alice, Interviewee
Ritchie, George, Interviewee
New Zealand Broadcasting Service. Mobile Recording Unit, Broadcaster

Duration 01:39:59

Date 02 Nov 1948